Graduation rates: 72.4 percent of Colorado high school students finished "on time" in 2010

Update below: New stats show that 72.4 percent of Colorado high school students graduated "on time" in 2010. In other words, 72.4 percent of freshman who started high school in the fall of 2006 donned caps and gowns in the spring of 2010. But is this better or worse than years past? That's a complicated question.

The Colorado Department of Education is using a new formula to calculate graduation rates this year, as mandated by the feds. The new formula does not count students who took longer than four years to graduate; it solely counts "on time" graduates. "In other words," a CDE press release states, "the formula anticipates that a student entering ninth grade in fall 2010 will graduate with the class of 2014." If they don't, they're not counted.

The purpose of the new formula is to create a uniform reporting system nationwide, so graduation rates can be compared state to state. "The new rate gives us a chance to see what's working well in other states and what can be applied here in Colorado," says state Education Commissioner Robert Hammond.

For comparison's sake, the CDE calculated 2009's graduation rate using the new formula. In 2009, 70.7 percent of students graduated "on time," which is fewer than in 2010.

The CDE also calculated 2010 "on time" graduation rates by ethnicity and gender.

  • 50.1 percent of Native Americans graduated on time
  • 82.4 percent of Asian students graduated on time
  • 63.7 percent of black students graduated on time
  • 55.5 percent of Hispanic students graduated on time
  • 80.2 percent of white students graduated on time

  • 76.3 percent of female students graduated on time
  • 68.7 percent of male students graduated on time

The new formula also doesn't count students who received certificates or GEDs. When the CDE factored those students in to the "on time" formula, the so-called "completer" rate for 2010 jumped to 75.8 percent, up from 74.2 percent in 2009.

Despite the new "on time" formula, CDE officials emphasized their support of alternative programs that help students graduate no matter how long it takes. "We don't want a new formula to dampen district enthusiasm for supporting programs that reach out to all students, including those who aren't graduating on the four-year plan," says Deputy Commissioner of Learning and Results Diana Sirko.

"It's important to understand, too, that a number of the students who don't graduate in four years are continuing to pursue their high school diploma," says Judith Martinez, director of the Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Engagement. "A 72.4 percent graduation rate does not mean that 27.6 percent of students are dropping out of school."

In fact, the 2009-2010 statewide dropout rate was 3.1 percent, according to CDE statistics. That's an improvement over 2008-2009, when the dropout rate was 3.6 percent.

Update, 2:55 p.m.: Denver Public Schools has released district-specific graduation data. According to the new formula, 51.8 percent of DPS students graduated "on time" in 2010. That's higher than in 2009, when 46.4 percent of students graduated on time, but still significantly lower than the state average.

School-specific graduation data can be found here.

"It's encouraging to see this large increase in our on-time graduation rate," DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in a press release.

"We had a number of schools that posted dramatic gains and very high numbers," he said. "We're especially pleased to see the very strong results at our turnaround schools as they graduated their first classes last spring." For instance, 89.6 percent of students at turnaround Martin Luther King Jr. Early College graduated on time in 2010, while the number at the Bruce Randolph School was 85.9 percent.

But, Boasberg added, "Our overall graduation rate remains unacceptably low and we continue to see troubling performance in a number of schools."

The average graduation rate for DPS's traditional, non-alternative high schools was 66 percent. Some, such as East High School (80.7 percent), were higher, while others, such as West High School (47.6 percent), were lower. Denver School of the Arts had the highest on-time graduation rate at 96.8 percent.

Several of DPS's alternative schools had very low on-time rates, including Florence Crittenton High School (2.6 percent), which caters to pregnant and parenting teen moms, who may need more than four years to finish high school. The average on-time rate for alternative schools was 5.6 percent, though the "completer" rate was 42.2 percent.

"We clearly need to work closely with our alternative schools to ensure we are catching up more of our students who have fallen behind or have dropped out and significantly increase the numbers of students who are completing the alternative programs prepared for success in college and careers," Boasberg added.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar